April 2001

Mental health time bomb

More and more Finns find it impossible to cope with working life until pension age. An article in the regional daily, Turun Sanomat (1 April 2001), says that whilst in the past workers prematurely ran out of physical stamina, now they crack up mentally.

According to the paper, every second person under 55, who retires early for health reasons, suffers from mental problems. Mental problems are thus a time bomb which threatens the whole pension system. Mental reasons force many people to retire young. The time people spend as pensioners is getting longer.

Turun Sanomat uses Professor Juha Siltala from the University of Helsinki as an expert. His comments are hard-hitting. Siltala thinks the "turbo economy" simply puts excessive demands on people. He sees as the main reason for burn-out the fact that too few people do work which should be done by a much larger number of people.

According to Siltala, this manifests itself in different ways in the private and public sector. The ideology of shareholder value, i.e. putting emphasis on the owners' interests, drives enterprises into short-sighted profit grabbing, which for an individual company then becomes difficult to avoid. Companies which put emphasis on their employees' well-being will quickly be swallowed up by others.

In the public sector, the taxation crisis has sapped resources. The fruits of the fantastic growth of the national economy have so far been distributed to companies and their owners. Council and state employees have so far been offered a pittance.

The situation has not been improved by statistics-loving performance management and constant development projects in working places. According to Siltala, they often tend to be nothing else but a way of bullying employees, as managers find ways to channel their own anxieties about necessary changes.

According to recent research, people end up as young pensioners because they don't believe that they can respond to the ever tougher demands of working life. A similar pressure on the younger generation can be seen in the attempts to lower children's school age and shorten the time students spend in universities. Siltala is certain that this kind of society will finally arrive at a dead end. People are becoming sceptical of the turbo economy.

"People vote by becoming ill", Siltala says.

The changes in people's values tell a stark story about what's wrong with working life, he adds. More than anything else, people now value the ability to control their own life. They don't want to sacrifice everything to work.

Siltala says that the most worrying aspect of the changes in working life is that it all has an effect on the whole of society. Working life is like an engine which drives the whole of society.

Working life values created in the turbo economy are being used in families, schools and politics. Nuclear families have become splintered into atomistic pieces. Future tasks are being discussed on notes posted on fridge doors.

Not only families but the whole of society pay the price of burn-out. Over-worked people are bad parents and bad managers of socially responsible tasks. The whole of life is being sacrificed to work.

See also:

From the archive:

How to survive work

9 March 2001

Culture as source of well-being

8 March 2001

Government accused of jobs flop

21 February 2001

EU employees working harder

3 February 2001

Short term job contracts criticised

29 January 2001

Temporary jobs on the rise

18 January 2001

What makes people hate work?

5 December 2000

Farewell to full employment

20 September 2000

“Would inefficiency create more happiness?”

1 June 2000

Work: How about enjoying life?

12 March 2000

The decline of the 'employment society'

January 1999

Why a Citizen's Income should be combined with a Citizen's Wage

November 1998

Shorter working hours – solution for the future?

November 1998

[home] [archive] [focus]